This is billed as a photo of Israeli police at a demonstration in Petah Tikva, Israel, August 20, 2017 by Ofer Vaknin, Haaretz. The Israelis recording the police are more visible.
New guidelines follow reports of police violence and allow cops to block reporters from entering a scene if their presences could inflame tensions
By Yaniv Kubovich, Ha’aretz premium
October 02, 2017
The guidelines were issued following several media reports of violent police behaviour during recent demonstrations by both disabled and ultra-Orthodox protesters.
The document, written by Brig. Gen. Ayelet Eliashar, states that a commander on the scene may bar journalists from entering the area if there is “danger to life or limb, including fear that the journalist’s entry will inflame a violent atmosphere to a level that is liable to endanger people’s lives.”
But it offers no elaboration on what circumstances could reasonably lead to such a fear and justify keeping a journalist from doing his job; that is left to the commander’s discretion.
The guidelines also allow the commander at the scene to deny journalists access if “there is fear that the coverage will violate a gag order.” Previously, the existence of a gag order didn’t bar journalists from covering an event; it merely barred them from including anything that would violate the gag order in their reports. But now police will have the ability to keep journalists away altogether.
This is particularly threatening to media coverage because police usually issue an immediate gag order on all serious crimes, such as murder, and sometimes even on major disasters like the collapse of a Tel Aviv parking garage.
Finally, Eliashar permits the commander at the scene to deny journalists access if there’s a fear that their presence “would disrupt an investigation or involve commission of some other crime (like privacy violations or revealing classified information).”
Sub-district commanders with the rank of brigadier general are given even broader powers to deny journalists access. Under the new guidelines, they can even bar journalists from sites “to which civilian access is permitted.”
Like commanders at the scene, they can deny access due to fear that the media’s presence “will inflame a violent atmosphere to a level that is liable to endanger human life.” But in addition, they can bar a journalist due to fear that the journalist himself will be injured while covering an incident.
The question of what constitutes a reasonable fear justifying the denial of access to the press is once again left entirely to the sub-district commander’s discretion, just as it was for the commander on the scene.
Finally, the guidelines state, “The police may limit use of photographic equipment, whether it involves photography that’s forbidden by any law or because stationing the equipment would impede passage for civilians and/or police in a way that would undermine the policeman’s performance of his duties at the incident.”
Nevertheless, the document also stresses that journalists’ coverage is important for keeping the public informed. “Therefore, the police officer must, insofar as possible given the circumstances of the incident and the place, allow them access … even in cases where access to civilians is forbidden or restricted,” it says . And adds,
“The Israel Police recognizes the importance of the media’s role in realizing the public’s right to know and the importance of journalists’ presence in the field.
“Nevertheless, there are other rights and other public interests that sometimes clash with those rights, and which the police must protect, like preserving human life and limb and keeping the peace.”
In a statement, the Israel Police said the purpose of the document was to remind commanders of the importance of coverage by the media, out of recognition of the public’s right to know. The document specifies that police officers must give reporters and representatives of the media access to the object of coverage, even in cases where access to members of the general public is restricted or prohibited.
“However, there are exceptions to this general principle: It is only natural that journalists are not above the law. In circumstances where permitting access to journalists involves a risk of injury, disruption to public order or obstruction of an investigation, [such access] is prohibited by law and calls for drawing a boundary, even tukar the public’s right to know. “
It is superfluous to point out that this document only repeats, without changing, existing policy while underlining the importance of journalistic coverage in a democratic state, and for this reason any exceptions must be approved at the highest rank.
“We regret this that the writer chose to ignore this guideline within the document, choosing to focus on the exception.”
The Israel Police will continue to act to exercise the public’s right to know and to create a balance between the freedom of journalistic coverage and the good of the investigation, personal privacy [and] the public’s security and welfare.